Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year's Eve in Madrid

So Happy New Year, I s'pose. Whatever. So far 2012 holds the promise of exciting new things (clearly non-financial exciting new things) as I've managed to shed nearly two-and-a-half stone or 33lbs beforehand, and even a miserable doom-admirer like myself can't find fault with that - except I now seem hellbent on giving that up and never returning to a gym again. All I can think about now are huge family-sized bags of MSG coated bacon flavoured maize strips, and tiffin.
My chum Ed claims this is just January blues, nothing more, nothing less, and suggests I don't board the cravings rollercoaster. Oh god.

Anyway, New Year's. Having spent the last 4 of those overrated 31sts with said Ed wandering round London in the hope that one of the world's greatest cities would have something to offer (it never does), we'd decided that this year (i.e. last year) we'd go abroad. After conceding that we (i.e. I) couldn't afford New York, we plumped instead for Madrid. There was no particular reason for the Spanish capital, other than it appealed 'cos it wasn't London, and spending 6 days there meant we could extend that traditional evening of enforced jollity via booze into cultural perambulations along wide boulevards and inside shops. For the first time in ages, I wasn't going to see out the last few days of the year crying alone in front of a TV 'til New Year's Eve arrived. Now I had an Ed in a Madrid.

It's a nice place Madrid, though truth be told I prefer it under an intense summer sun where its propensity to offer very little suits. Nonetheless, it's still quite pleasant in wintertime and, as explained, it's not London. Temperature-wise it's similar to our unseasonably mild UK at around 12°C, except with bluer skies and no wind. If there were downsides though, I guess it felt quite small for a capital city. I wanted crowds and action, although the few people that were around did provide the requisite Big City surliness by barging into us without apologizing, which gave me something to complain about.
Ed and I arrived in the middle of the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid and checked in to our basic 4-star hotel (3 of the stars we felt were awarded for location alone), and headed out for some fun. We found a lively looking district to the northeast with chaps milling about, and ate pizza where I tried to catch the eye of the indifferent white-Beyonce-alike waitress who had me pegged, correctly, as absolute male detritus, and ignored my winning smiles. Ed meanwhile took in his surroundings and shifted uncomfortably while I chowed down on a crispy pizza laden with barely cooked pig.

A short while later in a neon bar, those marbled strips of ham were blasting out the other end of me whilst I leant forward attempting to keep shut the broken toilet door. Once I'd staggered back to my bar stool in some considerable agony and shame, I was cheered by the absurd Spanish measures in my whiskey mixer (approximately 8 parts Ballantine to 1 part coke), then ruined the atmos by asking the barman quite loudly what Ed had suspected for some time: We were in a gay bar. In fact, we were in a gay district as Ed realised when he'd eaten his pizza facing me and several well-dressed men having romantic dinners.

Our last days of 2011 comprised of late starts, gentle amblings around town, the occasional Metro ride, and cake. In other words, bliss. We attempted just the one museum, oddly not the Prado (my guidebook called it a "Must See"), opting instead for the Reina Sofia mainly because it was in front of us when we decided to stop walking and go inside somewhere.

We wandered through their exhibition, From Revolt to Postmodernity, which makes perfect sense having just Googled it now. At the time, we wandered through video montages of chainsmoking French Socialist art collectives in berets debating Vietnam (with Spanish subtitles), traversing (and falling over in) pebble-strewn rooms with parrots, and staring in utter confusion at avant garde video art featuring a still man wrapped in BacoFoil stood next to a colleague thumping disjointed chords on a piano.

I was close to tears at this point as neither of us had any idea what the exhibition was about. All explanations were in Spanish, with the only readable thing being a collage of Daily Mail newspapers from the Sixties. And even that didn't help. As I recall the stories were about childcare.
The whole thing felt like a walk through an acid trip within Salvador Dali's head as he read The Communist Manifesto.

By the time we walked into a room made up of schematic blueprints of an irrelevant and anonymous building that, even more irrelevantly, led on to a room playing Eighties clips with Spanish equivalents of Kiss and The Ramones (but crapper, and less competent) performing to an audience of bemused and straight-laced Franco-bred teens, we'd had enough. We fought our way out to the more sober part of the museum to stare at Picasso's Guernica with 200 other tourists, then left.

Disgracefully, the highlight of our wanderings was to an enormous tourist shop that among other items specialised in medieval and Samurai swords so impressive, they rendered the ones emblazoned XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS tacky. More so. I was strangely transfixed, and decided that while EasyJet would probably stop me from bringing on board a 4-foot hand-forged Japanese katana, they may not object (except on taste grounds) to me buying a Goya print to frame and stick up on my wall. Thus Ed became as obsessed with calling me Tatman, hunter of cheap crap for adorning my Tatcave. (I bought nothing in the end only to regret it, and spent the next two days trying to retrace our steps working out where the hell in Madrid that fucking shop was. As far as we know, we both dreamt it.)

New Year's Eve itself started rather disconcertingly. We'd prepared by buying a dozen grapes at a Carrefour supermercado (the Spaniards like to fling one down with the 12 clock 'bongs', each representing a sweet month to come), then tried to find a place to eat. We knew of the Continental's love of late starts, but began to panic as we wandered down dark, empty streets. The scant restaurants that were open didn't appeal and had pricey New Year's menus, and after a good half hour's panicked swearing, we stumbled upon what was essentially a kebab shop for grown-ups with atrocious table service. We spent the better part of an hour in there which was predominately made up of waiting, even for our drinks, with just the last few minutes spent eating kebab on a plate. Then we left the 'restaurant', repeating the same worried hunt for life anywhere this time in bar form.

We found a bar that was actually open as well as barely patronised, which was shocking in itself bearing in mind this was now around half eleven on New Year's Eve. It was on a street called Colon, which I found doubly amusing as the barmen were gay. They served us beer - cocktails weren't going to be offered 'til 1am - but on the plus side they were pretty ambivalent about actually billing us. We were even given free beers for no particular reason that reminded me, with tears in my eyes, of the joys of European liberalism when it comes to alcohol. And we needn't have bought grapes either. Those fuckers had free bunches.

As we'd guessed, the actual crossing into the new year was just the beginning of the night in Europe, as opposed to the whole point back home. In Spain, you start drinking once you've flung grapes down your fruithole as an elegant couple in eveningwear does likewise on television. It was quite fun watching Spain's coverage of the heaving multitudes cheering in Sol, the capital's centre, just a half mile down the road from where we sat. Within 20 minutes, it felt as if the lot of them were packed in the bar with us. Things then moved at a pace. We had a Wifi connection so I videocalled my sister at home (She should've been more impressed than she actually looked). We got talking to two French girls, one of whom was a Gallic Jennifer Garner, and I hit my booze high yelling to Ed about The Game as if I actually had a clue about any of it.
In short this meant I acted happy to be around the girls, but not as if I needed them around (hard to tell if this worked. They never seemed disinterested, but neither did they try to sexually assault us either). Furthermore I prevented Ed from buying them drinks (this demonstrates low value, and is a waste of money. If I got all the cash I'd ever spent buying women drinks, and this includes barmaids, I'd get back sixteen thousand pounds and my dignity).

They asked if we knew any clubs - we didn't - but we both left to escort them. It felt strangely liberating not feeling like I had to indulge in smalltalk. Instead I just led the way with my guidebook map and made a few comments when I remembered to. Then we found a crappy club, saw them off there, and headed into a bar more conducive to our ages while I tried to convince myself via Ed's ear that it was absolutely the right thing to ditch the broads.

The bar was overpriced, and not very busy. A street. People are now milling about and this is more like New Year's. An effete young chap hands us tickets for free drinks and I ask if everyone's gay. "Some yes, some no, some everything," which sounded good enough so we go in for some Mojitos poorly produced save for a respectable amount of rum by a picture postcard butch lesbian. We find seats. The establishment had a mix of bog-standard young kids, a couple of gays in tight shirts, specs-wearing Hipster scum, and a transvestite.

Now I am a heterosexual male. One particular event notwithstanding, I am not attracted to transvestites, transgenders, or common-or-garden cross-dressers. That said, the one tranny who happened to be there had pulled it off quite well, even if under the lavish wig she had the face of a docker.
More impressive yet was the blonde lady stood next to her. Really attractive. With legs and the tits and everything. But we wanted to expore all the bars in Madrid and just wanted to stay for the one.

I am now quite drunk though, and telling Edward, a 40-something man of the world, about The Game and all that it entails. We prepare to leave, but I have a gambit I want to try.
"I'm going up to the tranny," I yell. "I'm gonna tell her she looks fabulous."
"Okay," grunts Ed, deadpan. If he has any opinions about my latent sexual proclivities, he's keeping them firmly to himself.
".. and," I continue, "I'm not going to look at the blonde at all."
"Right."
"I want you to tell me exactly what she does once we're outside."

And with that, we get up. I approach the transvestite and beam. "You look fabulous!" I squeal. Even if they can't speak a word of English, I'm animated enough for her to get my meaning.
We hug, as I recall, and there may have been pecks on cheeks.
"Happy New Year!"s are yelled.

I didn't so much as look in the blonde's direction once, or their companions. I had been completely transvestite-fixated. I stood outside, awaiting Ed's report.

"Yeah," he said. "She looked pretty put out".

"Yessss!" So the theories carried weight. I had negged the blonde - not directly, as I didn't actually talk to her at all - but in not acknowledging her, I'd piqued her interest. I hadn't approached her, the attractive blonde. Instead I'd complimented a man dressed as one.

The night wore on. In fact, it gets vague. I recall us drinking a pair of really well made Pina Coladas and dancing like buffoons... and then Ed goes bed some time around 5am, whereupon I'd thought, 'Fuck it!!'

I found a bar that had a quite high level of desperation. It was half empty and seemed filled with people like me who just wanted to stay out drinking absolutely anywhere. The only difference was they'd had friends with them.

Then I'd gone for a sandwich in a huge, brightly-lit cafe on the Gran Via. I'd ordered a baguette but was mesmerised by the rows of strong liquor behind the teenage till-pressers. So naturally I ordered an Irish coffee too. I sat down and found myself talking to a pair of attractive Basque Separatists. Now things are really hazy, but I recall being so impressed about sitting in a McDonalds-style establishment at 7am that served alcohol, that I got in a double G&T for the road


I woke up screaming. I hadn't had much sleep, and was still hammered.

Suffice to say, paella is not good hangover food. I'd also forgotten than I don't like paella. And neither do I like prawns, unshelled or otherwise, or all manner of water-based lifeforms.

So the seafood paella was a bit of a mistake.

In fact, that first day of 2012 was a write-off altogether, with all we had left to look forward to a plane back to London, and imminent work. It's always a shame to wander aimlessly around a foreign clime you've just holidayed in and are about to leave. Even more so when as a single man, your only physical interaction with the opposite sex has been with the same sex in a dress, or aggressive hookers.

We wandered up and down the Gran Via on our last night, chatting, and taking in the cool night air. To quote Ed from his holiday notes:

'Fweng was twice accosted by prostitutes whereas I had none. This meant 1 of 2 things. They chose Fweng over me because;

1) They found him more attractive
2) He looked more likely to pay for that sort of thing'


Happy New Year.